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‘Corner Gas’ set to air in U.S

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (CP) _ After five seasons in Canada, "Corner Gas" _ Brent Butt’s loopy little sitcom set in the fictional town of Dog River, Sask. _ is finally being introduced to U.S. viewers.

The carrier is Chicago-based superstation WGN, available in over 70 million U.S. homes as well as to digital subscribers in Canada.

In an era when U.S. programming floods across our borders and dominates our ratings, it is news when a Canadian TV show manages to turn it around and crack the U.S. market. Not everything we try to export to the States sticks; "Trailer Park Boys" were told to decamp after one low-rated season on the U.S. cable network BBC America. "Da Vinci’s Inquest," however, was quickly embraced by viewers when it was picked up by WGN, providing a tidy annuity for its star, Nicholas Campbell.

"Corner Gas" is already a pretty successful import, appearing in 26 countries. Cast members keep hearing stories from tourists who have seen episodes in far away places such as Australia and New Zealand.

This press tour, however, the buzz has been about the show that has stolen some of the thunder from "Corner Gas" in Canada, CBC’s "Little Mosque On The Prairie."

New NBC chairman Ben Silverman confirmed last week that "Little Mosque" is on his radar. The cast of the CBC comedy is also being feted next month in Los Angeles at The Paley Center For Media (formerly the Museum Of Television & Radio).

The tour has also seen a steady parade of Europeans _ as well as the occasional Canadian _ posing as Americans on NBC, CBS and Fox. More than ever before, U.S. networks seem to be looking beyond their borders for fresh faces. Whether it is thanks to the success of "Heroes" _ a show which boasts an exceptionally international cast for a U.S. television series _ or the break out stardom of Dr. Gregory House _ a.k.a. British actor Hugh Laurie, the world seems to be coming to America this fall.

The star and creator of "Corner Gas," Brent Butt, figures his timing couldn’t be better. This past weekend, the 40-year-old Saskatchewan-native joined critics from both sides of the border at a low-key press tour breakfast to promote WGR’s pick-up of the series.

Somehow, back bacon did not make the menu. Instead, besides the usual bacon and eggs, critics were offered "Corner Gas" golf balls, key chains, coffee mugs and other cheesy trinkets.

Butt, who was joined at the breakfast by co-stars Nancy Robertson (Wanda), Gabrielle Miller (Lacey) and Tara Spencer-Nairn (Officer Karen Pelly), is pretty sure Americans will get his show. He’s been told Dog River reminds them of rural Nebraska. "They just accept that it is a small town in the middle of nowhere," he said.

Someone once described his show as "Seinfeld" rocketed back 40 years and put in Mayberry. That’s the description he passes along to Americans.

Butt used a photo of the cast standing in front of a grain elevator to break down the show for U.S. critics. "You’ve got the authority figures who aren’t very good at what they do," he said, pointing at police officers Spencer-Nairn and Lorne Cardinal, "the bitter co-worker who is snarky and doesn’t want to be there (Robertson’s Wanda), the strong matriarch (Janet Wright’s Emma) the cranky old guy (Eric Peterson’s Oscar), the dopey local (Fred Ewanuick’s Hank), the smart ass (Butt himself, who plays station owner Brent Leroy) and the fish out of water (Miller’s transplanted coffee shop owner, Lacey)."

One U.S. critic seemed to get it immediately, claiming her husband could easily fill in as Oscar.

Robertson, who describes her character as "the plain gas station attendant," is just glad "Corner Gas isn’t being re-cast for the American market. Her part would probably go to somebody like Meg Ryan, she guesses, "the American version of plain."

Butt recalled that when they did write an American into an episode they tried to play against the notion that most Yanks don’t know or care that much about Canada. Mark McKinney guest-starred in an early episode as a Yank who knew more about Canadians than the Canadians did. "We turned it on its head," he said.

He also doesn’t feel Americans will be stumped by occasional guest stars who mean nothing outside of Canada, such as CTV News anchor Lloyd Robertson or former Toronto Maple Leaf Darryl Sittler.

"I look at it as value added," says Butt. "If you know who Darryl Sittler is, you’ll enjoy the joke so much more than people who don’t know who Darryl Sittler is." And if you don’t, well, it’s no worse than when Canadians don’t exactly get all the references on British TV comedies. As Robertson says, the worst that can happen is that American viewers "might learn a few things" about Canada.

Corner Gas Draws 2 Million in Record Setting Season Finale

TORONTO, Monday night’s highly anticipated season finale of Corner Gas drew a season-high 2 million viewers, the most successful season finale to date and the second largest audience ever for Canada’s No.1 comedy.

For CTV, the big-buzz-finale capped another memorable year for Corner Gas, which charted an astonishing 67 per cent audience growth since its season premiere last September. The series finishes its 19-episode run with an average audience of 1.52 million viewers, reaching as high as No.16 on Canada’s Top 20 list of most watched programs.

For the fourth consecutive year, Corner Gas remains television’s No.1 comedy (Canadian or American) and the most watched Canadian scripted series (see "The Ratings" below for a complete ratings summary). The memorable finale will encore Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on The Comedy Network and is available on demand on The CTV Broadband Network at CTV.ca.

With another successful season in the record books, CTV today confirmed to series producers a full 19-episode production order for a 5th season of Corner Gas. Production crews are now gearing up for a May, 2007 return to their Saskatchewan-based sets and soundstages. With their return, Corner Gas remains the only network comedy series to be entirely based and shot in Saskatchewan.

Armed with the new production order, Corner Gas executive producers Brent Butt, David Storey and Virginia Thompson today unveiled their Season V story department, a six-person team that now stands as the most formidable creative lineup the series has ever boasted. The newly assembled "dream-team" story

department features:

Brent Butt – star/creator/writer/director/executive producer

Kevin White – supervising producer/writer (showrunner)

Mark Farrell – producer/writer

Norm Hiscock – consulting producer/writer

Gary Pearson – story editor/writer

Andrew Carr – story editor/writer

In addition to signing on the Emmy Award winning Norm Hiscock (Saturday Night Live, King Of The Hill, Kids In The Hall) and the highly acclaimed Gary Pearson (MadTV, This Hour Has 22 Minutes), the executive producing team today appointed Corner Gas veteran Kevin White as series show-runner. Together with star/creator/director/co-executive producer Brent Butt, producer/writer Mark Farrell (The Newsroom, This Hour Has 22 Minutes) and story editor/writer Andrew Carr (Comics), it’s a virtual all-star collection of Canada’s most prolific comedy writers.

CTV’s ‘Corner Gas’ Secures Lucrative U.S. Syndication Deal

TORONTO (CP) _ Brent Butt, the star, creator and producer of CTV’s hit comedy "Corner Gas," has two lifelong dreams: to appear on the "Late Show With David Letterman" and to play goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

One of those dreams _ only one of them, however _ might be a trifle closer to coming true with the announcement Friday that "Corner Gas" has secured a U.S. distribution deal with American cable network Superstation WGN. The two-year, 88-episode deal with the Chicago-based network will make the series available in nearly 70 million U.S. homes beginning in 2007.

"Being the greasy nightclub comic that I am, I’ve always wanted to be on Letterman because the man’s a master, so who knows," Butt says with a laugh. He is quick to acknowledge, however, that net-minding for the Leafs will forever remain a fantasy.

Butt, who plays Brent Leroy on the half-hour comedy, says he continues to be stunned at how successful his brainchild has become since it first aired on CTV in January 2004.

"It’s been pretty whirlwindy right from the start; I mean it’s been so much more than I expected or anyone else expected," Butt said in a telephone interview Friday.

"When we got nominated after the first year for an international Emmy, I remember thinking: ‘How the hell did this happen?’ I am sort of feeling that way today as well."

Americans already like "Corner Gas," says Butt, who hears from U.S. fans watching the show via satellite. That’s because "Corner Gas" is not so Canadian that non-Canadians don’t get the dry humour revolving around life in a rural setting.

"I even had someone from Sweden who watches it there tell me it reminds him exactly of the town where he grew up in Sweden," Butt says. "It’s a universal thing. It’s the kind of show that people tell their friends about, around the watercooler at the office the next day _ the humour isn’t exclusively Canadian."

Indeed, "Corner Gas" is now licensed internationally to broadcasters serving 26 countries, including Australia, Iraq, Finland and Morocco, following in the footsteps of the other CTV mega-hit, "Degrassi: The Next Generation." The Degrassi kids were even mobbed in September during an appearance in New York City.

Even bigger things might be ahead for "Corner Gas," if Butt has his way. Just like that other Canadian runaway hit, "The Trailer Park Boys," Butt hopes "Corner Gas" might also be destined for the big screen.

"We’ve talked a lot about that, and we’re very serious about it," he said. "I’d really like to see that happen somehow."

The Saskatchewan-born Butt came up with the idea for the series after wondering what his life would be like if he hadn’t pursued standup comedy. The first episode of the show attracted 1.2 million viewers _ a huge number for a Canadian audience _ and has never gone below the million-viewer mark, regularly holding its own against American fare like "The Simpsons" and "Deal or No Deal."